Sunday, 25 July 2010

Life Lessons

It was my birthday yesterday. 31. I remember my 30th birthday being a surprisingly simple and elegant time, but the year that followed was punctuated by way too much personal angst and drama: big decisions, loss, two grief cycles, isolation, moving rooms five times (moving house sounds too glamorous), uncertainty, and the tension that thesis boredom and repetition can create. There were chunks of stable, productive, and very happy times, but, on the whole, I think, during 2009-2010, I coughed up some pretty staggeringly high prices for some lessons that I guess I couldn't just steal from the self-help aisle or pinch from a website. I feel better today, in most senses, than ever before, but I paid up, kiddies.

Here are some of those lessons:
  1. Take charge. No one is going to get you out of situations you don't want to be in, or help you into others, and certainly not the right way, anyway. Those who love you can't always be expected to push you off from the shore, even if you're fretfully thinking, 'Can't they see that I need a push?' This goes for personal and professional stuff.

  2. Beware fear of loss and rejection. These anxieties mean that you can attach too early, fantasize at the cost of really knowing the other, become ungrounded, and ultimately disrespect your own personal standards and boundaries. Don't foreclose early. Loss creates space, and rejection is, for the most part, a benevolent thing.

  3. Fear is contagious. No matter how sensible and sincere you think you are being in a relationship or friendship, there is nothing like a bit of fear (anger, defensiveness, dishonesty etc) from the other to warp your behaviour. Builds up. It becomes very hard to listen. Goes both ways.

  4. Remember the love. Lots of people love and value me, and I adore them. I am absurdly lucky in this way. I just spoke to my twin. Last week, my parents treated me to a holiday in France in which we met up with our French family friends. We also won pretty big on Neptune's Fortune at the Casino of Monte Carlo. I like that I've now been to a casino with my parents. They go all the time so it was nice of them to finally include me (wink, wink). Yesterday, a friend took me to late lunch at this nice French place in Oxford, then last night, a bunch of friends took me out for cocktails, dinner and nice chat. They also granted me my wish: to be sung Happy Birthday in a non-English language, in character. Included Latin, Dutch, Urdu, and Spanish. If that's not supremely loving...well, I just don't know...(fierce shake of my double chin)

  5. Generosity emerges from unexpected sources. A new friend made my birthday very special by taking me to a lovely dinner and out to a College party on Friday night. We laughed a lot and he just knows.

  6. Adversity can be a good test. Crap situations test your ability to respond to life with creativity and self-composure, and this, I think, is a reflection of how much you know and like yourself, in the good way, not the narcissistic way (narcissism actually blocks these opportunities for growth). Of course, some situations are just crap and you have to just get through without any theorising.

  7. Maybe just don't say it. Not everything needs to be expressed. Wait and see what remains to be said. My friend says to put things through the 'necessary and kind' test. Equally, not everything deserves a response. I have realised over the year that I actually don't like talking as much about things as I used to. I don't need to. Plus, I am more practical, outward, and flexible by nature. But I did hurt someone I love with too many words. Fortunately, we had enough in the bank. I am hoping the next year is one big 'shh...'

  8. Take your time. Giving yourself enough time and space for recalibration after set-backs is crucial. If you don't consciously do this, your body and mind will take it from you anyway, in some form, which means that no matter what you're intending, you simply won't have enough of the right stuff to give, and you'll probably be giving it to the wrong thing or person anyway.

  9. Chin up, chaps. Even if you have to start again at your beginnings, you're wiser for it, and it can be quite a light time anyway.

  10. Give yourself more credit.

The photographs are of my recent trip to France and of my party outfit that I purchased there.

Please tell me a life lesson or two that you have acquired over the past year...
But only if you feel like it. ; )


Kate said...
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Kate said...


1. sometimes you just have to stop thinking and go for it.

2. eventually a baby will have to go to sleep.

again, happy birthday xx

Kate said...

Just one for me. Don't push too hard: it will happen.

Talk about hard learned!!

(photos of you in the outfit, please!)

Good Enough Woman said...

I love these! I want to write them down and put them in my pocket! My favorite idea from here? That rejection is benevolent. That's VERY interesting.

I'll have to think about my recent life lessons, but two things come to mind. The first *is* recent and is one that, apparently, I need to learn over and over again. The second is a line I got from Amy Tan more than 15 years ago:

1) I can't push my kids too hard . It doesn't work. In fact, it backfires. They'll do it when they're ready.

2) Shame you fall down, no one push you.

LOVE the outfit and the shoes. Too cute. And the pictures of France are gorgeous!

I'll be back to study your list some more.

Academic, Hopeful said...
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Academic, Hopeful said...

Thanks, ladies. Nice ones. xxx

Kate (L): Thinking can sometimes be a way of avoiding action. You're right.

Kate (M): I think your lesson could thread a lot of mine. Will model dress to you back in Oz. ; )

GEW: I love that Amy Tan quote! Hilarious.

The rejection thing is about realising you're often not centrally important to other people's decisions and behaviour. People are unpredictable. Plus, most of the times I have been rejected (jobs, apps, people) have been relieving and good tests of what I really want, what I am about and what I am putting out there.

Rejection gives you a great opportunity to be responsible for your own life, and to be honest about a lot of things.

There is more to it than this, but I fear my blog is turning into something else...May revisit this theme, in all its glory, another time. ; )

Will have to wait to use those parenting lessons...

Academic, Hopeful said...

excuse grammar errors in above. should be thesising!

JPo said...

Happy birthday dearest. Your list is well-formulated, hard-earned, and multifaceted, as ever. I appreciated it very much. On the spur of the moment, some lessons for me from the past year:

1. People love lists. This is particularly the case when they have 3, 5 or 10 points.

2. If you say no, you may miss out. But you are missing out on virtually everything that is happening at any given moment anyway, and that doesn’t bother you so much!

3. Chance it. Fumbling along for a while without work, language or love will only bring better work, better language and better love.

4. Sign up for the challenge and you will damn-well finish it. (This is a lesson in action!)

5. Opportunities make the world smaller.

Bavardess said...

Happy birthday! And what better way to spend it than with a holiday in France? Love the photos.

So many nuggets of wisdom here. The lesson I've finally (I hope!) learned over the past year is that the things I tend to stress about the most and lose the most sleep over (money, work situations, what people think of me...) are usually the things that mean the least to me a few months down the track. Also, that nothing clobbers those anxieties like getting a good sweat on. All the best for the year ahead.

rr said...

That the inevitable answer to 'why me?' is 'why not me'....trite but true, and sometimes you learn from it...other times its just a crap thing with no meaning. Also a line I got from a Carol Shields book...something along the lines that grief and sadness deserve their own space, and can't always be brushed away with pretty thoughts of all that you have....oh, and also that I had forgotten how good mango sorbet is...its really,really good!!
Happy birthday lovely, hopefully talk soon xx